The Clientele formed a long time ago in the backwoods of suburban Hampshire, playing together as kids at school, rehearsing in a thatched cottage remote from any kind of music scene, but hypnotized by the magical strangeness of Galaxie 500 and Felt and the psych pop of Love and the Zombies. Singer Alasdair MacLean still recalls a pub conversation where the band collectively voted that it was OK to be influenced by Surrealist poetry but not OK to have any shouting or blues guitar solos. From that moment on, they put their stamp on a kind of eerie, distanced pure pop, stripped to its essentials and recorded quickly to 4-track analogue tape.
These recordings were released as lovingly packaged 7" singles at the tail end of the '90s and compiled as the millennium ended into the debut album, Suburban Light, now hailed as one of the best records of the decade. From the faded pop art of Suburban Light came a move into the fog with the second LP, The Violet Hour, released in 2003. An attempt to create a deeper, more mysterious sound, it was an archetypal Clientele record: hypnotic, self-enclosed, meticulously creating its own world.
The Clientele reinvented their music with Strange Geometry (2005) and God Save the Clientele (2007); Brian O'Shaughnessy (My Bloody Valentine, Primal Scream) and Mark Nevers produced, and El Records legend Louis Philippe provided typically gorgeous string arrangements. The sound was bigger, brighter, and clearer, MacLean's ringing, classically influenced guitar style and James Hornsey's melodic bass combining to create a different kind of depth and atmosphere for the newly sparkling songs, which now came complete with crossover appeal; incongruously, one of them even featured in the Keanu Reeves/Sandra Bullock weepie, The Lake House.
Bonfires on the Heath is in a sense a return to The Clientele's roots; the dreamlike suburban landscapes first encountered in the early singles, their trippy sense of menace stronger now. Back in London, they've drawn on older traditions of English folk, which exist here side by side with the band's more familiar bossa and pop elements. Mel Draisey's contributions on piano and violin add beautifully to MacLean's timeless, eerie songs.
Instantly identifiable, The Clientele sound like no one else, although they are cited as an influence by bands as diverse as Spoon and the Fleet Foxes. It's been said that the greatest bands always create their own individual sound; The Clientele have gone one further and created their own world.